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Ask Habitat: How Can the Board Cope with Divorce Drama?

Queens, New York City

A Board Is Caught Between Warring Spouses
March 23, 2015

HABITAT ANSWERS: There's not a lot a board can do to prepare for residents getting divorced. But once a separation is underway, there are things you should know.

When divorcing couples air their grievances in public, the biggest concern is not for the parties involved but for other residents. Board members should sit down with the warring spouses and see if a truce can be worked out. They should be reminded of the rules for behavior in common areas, and that they are expected to follow them. If they don't, a co-op can turn to the proprietary lease and threaten the couple with eviction. Advise the building staff to stay out of any public altercations involving the spouses. 

To avoid getting caught in a dispute over who has rights to use the apartment, boards should get any requests in writing and have them reviewed by the building's attorney. The lawyer may respond with a letter saying the building will attempt to honor a request if it is supported by a legal position, but unless there is a restraining order, the building cannot bar a shareholder whose name is on the apartment title.

Be prepared to do without: maintenance fees and condominium charges often end up entangled in the dispute. A co-op can move to evict shareholders who don't pay their maintenance fees because it has first lien on the apartment.

In many cases, one spouse will keep the apartment. The co-op board may want to review the remaining spouse as they would a new shareholder, to make sure he or she can afford to keep the apartment. If the transfer happens before the divorce is final, then the board often can't vet the spouse. But if the couple has already finalized their divorce, the board could argue that they are no longer married and ask to review the individual financials of the spouse who will remain in the apartment.

Good luck! 


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